by Laurel Scott Duncan
A legendary stallion? Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: Wertherson’s influence as a sire has been profoundly felt in the show ring, not to mention the breeding shed.
An “Elite” Hanoverian stallion with uncommon elegance, Wertherson is the product of a centuries-old breeding program. But his legacy is completely modern in the best sense of the word — and so far, it hinges primarily on his daughters.
Son of Werther
Wertherson was bred in Germany, by H.H. Buchholz. A 1983 foal, he was sired by the Celle stallion Werther, the first winner of the Hanoverian Stallion Award and a stallion whose progeny excelled at so many disciplines that they earned him the title “Versatile Werther.” Wertherson’s dam, the State Premium Walesca, is out of Auskehr, a major Hanoverian foundation mare. Weltdame, a full sister to Wertherson, is also a State’s Premium daughter of Werther, and earned the distinction of a DLG Champion mare (DLG refers to the national body that oversees all the “Duestchland” Warmblood breeds, including, but not limited to, Hanoverians, Holsteiners, Hessians, Oldenburgs, Trakehners and others, so a DGL Champion designation is quite rare and prestigious).
But it was in Maryland that Wertherson forged his reputation. In 1986, shortly after his 100 days’ test, the horse was imported to the Eastern Shore by jumper rider Reiner Schmerglatt of Verden Park. Not much is known about Wertherson’s early years at stud, although he did lose an eye during this period and wore a prosthesis for much of his life.
Wertherson’s story took a new direction when he changed hands in the winter of 1989. Ironically, it was a Thoroughbred stallion owner, Suzanne Quarles of Mt. Airy, who took the Hanoverian to new levels.
Quarles had stumbled on an ad for a stallion in Centreville. A good friend was headed out there to see a young horse, so she decided to go along and take a peek at Wertherson. “I had no intention of buying another stallion,” she maintained.
When she walked into the barn, Wertherson was tied to the wall alongside other horses among mares and geldings, in the German fashion. The 16.3h chestnut stallion was so mannerly that Quarles mistook him for a “beautiful gelding” that was being prepared for a ride. When the staff stood him up for Quarles, all she could say was, “Wow!” The horse’s gaits proved even more amazing. “He made a great first impression,” she recalled.
Though Wertherson was a model of class and refinement, Quarles was still reluctant to take on another stallion — until her husband asked her “Why not?” Intrigued by the idea of having a stallion who could also compete in dressage, Quarles went back for Wertherson. There was just enough time to advertise him for the coming season, so the deal was sealed.
Quarles immediately sent her new purchase to Fred Weber, a top-ranked dressage rider based at Woodvale Farm in Frederick.
As his career unfolded, the flashy chestnut stallion drew considerable attention. “It was such fun to go to the shows, because he always had this little entourage,” Quarles recalled. ” He really did have a fan club; people just loved to see him go.”
Wertherson’s aptitude was as marvelous as his gaits were gorgeous. “He went right through the ranks, a level a year,” Quarles recalled fondly. “He was an incredible FEI horse who was nearly unbeatable at Prix St. George and Intermediare I.” Indeed, his FEI career scores average out to a little over 65%. Sadly, Wertherson’s competitive career ended in 1993 when a blow to his “good” eye triggered a bizarre series of problems that, despite an operation, resulted in the complete loss of sight. So, on the eve of some of his greatest accomplishments in the dressage arena, the striking chestnut was retired from competition. During his competitive years, Wertherson had maintained a full book of mares each season, so he was able to make the transistion seemlessly.
A Filly Sire
At first, Wertherson’s breeding business was largely local and East Coast-based. But his popularity gradually spread west, with quite a few clients emerging from California.
Less than half of the over 400 mares that Wertherson has bred are even registered Hanoverians; as Quarles explained, the rest are a “little of everything.” Still, he invariably “stamped” his get with good looks and a fluid way of moving. “His foals were always very typey and very modern and always very rideable,” Quarles said. This has made his get quite popular as ami-owner horses, since they are the kind of horse that, if he didn’t get ridden for a week or so, you didn’t lose anything.”You are getting back on the same horse you put up a week ago.”
Cathy Tucker-Slaterbeck, a director at large for the AHS, also noted how Wertherson’s offspring all inherit his fluid motion: “They’re known for being good movers.” The result was much the same, no matter the breed of mare. “When he was bred to Thoroughbreds, it was impossible to tell that the offspring was not a Thoroughbred,” Quarles reflected. “They just had a little more elasticity, a better neckset, and were quieter, without being dull.”
Because of these qualities, Wertherson’s offspring have proven particularly useful in the show hunter ring. “He does have some very good hunters out there — that may be one of his strongest contributions,” said Tucker-Slaterbeck. “He produces a really nice ladies’ horse,” Quarles added. “Light off the aids, real `can-do,’ and with an agreeable nature.”
From the first, it was clear that Wertherson’s legacy would rest with his daughters and granddaughters. As the sire of 11 Elite Hanoverian mares, Wertherson is ranked third in the Hannoverian Stud Book, behind Diamont (b. 1976) and Domingo (b. 1980).
But no matter the breeding, his daughters are simply outstanding. “He’s definitely a filly sire,” Quarles said. “And that became obvious in the first or second year I had him; when you put the fillies against the boys, the fillies always came out on top.”
Quarles’ own Wertherson get have generally been sold straight off the farm. “They go for between $12,000 and $15,000 as just barely-broken 2-year-olds,” she said. A first-year green hunter by Wertherson recently brought about $300,000, so clearly, the sky’s the limit.
Some particularly nice Wertherson foals came from a little mare named Alexandra that Quarles herself owned. “She was barely 15.1, and people in the stable used to call her the “aircraft carrier” because her back was flat and her tail was set very high like an Arab,” Quarles said.
A 12 year old mare named Wall Street, out of an Aktuel mare (breeder Judith Di Giovanni) and owned by Dr. Frances Dougherty in Poolesville, Maryland is arguably Wertherson’s best product, earning the high score Hanoverian at her inspection and high score at her mare performance test, and has continued to perform well as a dressage horse since then. “She rarely put a foot in the wrong place,” Quarles said. “And every full brother or sister has done exceptionally well.”
As successive generations mature, Wertherson’s reputation as a broodmare sire will also be decided. Already, foals out of Femme Fatale and Autlandisch are bringing home blues and even a licensed stallion!
That Wertherson has been influential is unquestionable. But it’s the degree of influence that has yet to be determined. As Tucker-Slaterbeck pointed out, so many of his progeny are just starting their careers, particularly in dressage.
“He’s been a great sire,” she said. “And as far as the Hanoverians go, he has surely had an impact. His fillies and mares always test well and show well, and I think he’s left a reasonable mark. Branching out from there, though, I think it will take some time (to tell).
“It was just dumb luck to have tripped over that ad,” Quarles recounted. “I really wasn’t looking for anything.” But she ended up with that “once-in-a-lifetime” horse and in many senses, Wertherson’s saga is just beginning.
The official book charting the history of the Hanoverians (“100 Years: Hanoverian Studbook) features, in the lower photograph, Wertherson’s bottom line grand dam, the State Premium Auskehr, a revered foundation mare (far left). Also featured in the photograph are Wertherson’s dam, the State Premium Walesca, and his full sister Weltdame, also a State Premium mare as well as a DLG Champion mare.
The Hanoverian breed emerged at a time when the role of the horse was changing dramatically in Europe. It origins trace to the establishment of the State Stud of Lower Saxony at Celle, Germany in 1735. According to the American Hanoverian Society, “refining stallions — primarily Thoroughbreds — were crossed with domestic mares to improve the quality of cavalry mounts and farm stock.” Over the years, the Hanoverian breeding program introduced other strains in an effort to create a more athletic riding animal. The result is the modern Hanoverian horse, which is known for its conformation, temperament, and elastic gaits, and its excellence in jumping, dressage, eventing, and driving.
It is this versatility that accounts for the breed’s increasing popularity in this country. According to the AHS, there are approximately 6,750 registered Hanoverians on American soil. But currently only about 100 of them are “Elite” stallions like Wertherson. The “Elite” title is one that must be earned. To obtain a temporary breeding license, Hanoverian stallions must pass an inspection for conformation, movement, and jumping ability. They then undergo at least 100 days of performance testing where their tractability, rideability, and jumping ability are evaluated. Those who receive a score of 90 or better earn a final breeding approval; with that, comes the designation “Elite.”
Mares undergo similar inspections at age 3 or older. After being evaluated for type, conformation and gaits, they are placed in the various sections of the studbook based on both their overall scores and their dam’s studbook placement. Only the creme de la creme earn the title of “Elite Mare”, and only after successful completion of the Mare Performance Test and having a Hanoverian foal.